Beak

Beak Artist PhotoBeak has achieved that confoundingly difficult feat: originality and catchiness. He’s managed to integrate acoustic guitar with breakbeats and IDM in an ingeniously seamless way.

The first track of Amoral Mayor Earwig EP, how a hot air balloon works, starts out straightforwardly enough. Some quiet acoustic guitar plucks, repeating and slowly adding some more layers of guitar. Sure, there’s some digital delay but mostly it’s just guitar. Some bitcrushing distortion eases into the left speaker just enough to raise an eyebrow, but it keeps with the guitar thing. Oh nice, some drums. Maybe even live. Strange processed guitar in the background, almost voice-like. A single reversed cymbal, very quick. Drum break. Quite distorted. Wait, how did we end up here? By the time the second track, i saw two of me, starts our hot air balloon has caught the jet stream. No turning back now.

Amoral Mayor Earwig EP and Bishop-Whitney EP could be two sides of a single album. I tend to listen to these together. El Hacedor is perhaps a little more mysterious, a little mellower. All three are intriguing and highly enjoyable.

Links

Beak on MySpace (bonus downloadable track, Limozeen)

Amoral Mayor Earwig EP: Stream | archive.org | Monotonik netlabel
Bishop Whitney EP: Stream | archive.org | Monotonik netlabel
El Hacedor: Stream | archive.org | Monotonik netlabel

This is part of a series of netlabel reviews.

Glander: Heavy Weights & Vate

Glander: Heavy WeightsNormally I avoid repetition in music. Usually my iTunes is randomly shuffling from my “Not Recently Played” playlist. Yet I find myself playing these two netlabel albums by Glander multiple times a week. Music that is highly repetitive, with long, sprawling arcs, and four on the floor kick drum. Reading a description of it, I wouldn’t have given it much of a chance. But this is one of my favorite discoveries of the year.

Yuki Yaki’s blurb for Heavy Weights has this fanciful description: The tracks will take you on a dive cruise, each of them has its own little valley and its own moon. So: Take your time. This is exactly how I feel about it. The underwater aspect is suggested by the cover, which looks like a Shogun trilobite, and continues through the tracks with glossy, undulating textures. When this album starts I feel like I’m returning to a space that has continued to exist in my absence.

Glander: VateA couple of months after finding Heavy Weights, Vate (released on the 1 bit wonder netlabel) popped up in the archive.org feed. I literally cheered when I saw that there was more Glander to experience. Vate shows how dialed in to his technique Glander is, without at all being formulaic. The same masterful use of repetition is there but there’s a slightly grittier edge to the textures, and I almost get the sense that the camera has a wider angle lens, as bizarre as that is to say about music. These tracks are funkier, too. For instance, listen to the syncopation in the second track, Hmbrg, or the staccato gurgles in Drift. While Heavy Weights is a deep sea dive, Vate is a swooping flight through an urban landscape.

I’m still trying to understand why Glander’s use of repetition is so satisfying. On closer listening, the repeating textures are actually continually varying in small ways, and the different layers flow in and out of the foreground, creating complex interactions. There’s also a constant, but subtle, change in the surrounding space. Sometimes the textures will echo, and then it’s like they come close to you and have a very focused feel, and then drift outward into a cavernous space. There will be long stretches where you might not have noticed even that there were no drums, and then the kick will return at just the right moment.

Both of these albums, along with the bonus tracks available on Glander’s site, reward close listening as well as zoning out and using as background to working and working out.

Links

Glander (download individual tracks that have been on various compilations)

Heavy Weights: Stream | archive.org | Yuki Yaki
Vate: Stream | archive.org | 1 bit wonder

This is part of a series of netlabel reviews.

Julius Lagerfeld – Konterkonzept EP [ID19]

Julius Lagerfeld - Konterkonzept EP CoverKonterkonzept EP by Julius Lagerfeld from the Interdisco netlabel. This is music with an evil grin. The Joker’s henchmen would dance to this. Yes, it’s electronica, but moreso, it is electric.

According to Lagerfeld, “it was created by exclusively using hardware synthesizers to set a counterpoint to the prevailing approaches of laptop and software.” He seems to be onto something. This stuff just crackles with energy from the first few seconds and carries through to the end.

While the requisite minimal techno repetition is there, it exists simply to lull you while subtle surprises slink in and out of auditory view. Lagerfeld knows how to take his time and explore an idea, and then move into territories that at first are unexpected, then seem inevitable. This is true of the structure as well as the sound design.

Note: for some reason archive.org’s stream of this EP is playing back at a slower speed. Preview this one from the mp3 downloads instead.

Electronica Podcast Roundup #1

Travel and jet lag got the better of me the last couple of weeks, so no new podcast yet. Instead, why not give one of these a try? Tune in again next week.

Radio 360 (iTunes)
radio360.png“Music for Strange Moments.” They appear to be a label, but they also play artists on Ninjatune, Sub Pop and others. They seem to focus on electronica with vocals, which is a nice change after listening to hours of instrumental electronic music. They have a slightly annoying habit of playing their audiomark in the background in the middle of ever other song or so, and also using the dreaded computer voice to announce track info. Their segue music is by someone named DJ Darkhorse. It’s nice that they have created a recognizable format, but I think these could be shortened. All in all a very enjoyable and consistent podcast. The latest episode is particularly good — it’s called “Best of Part One.” Not sure what part one is, or when part two starts, but it’s groovy.

betterPropaganda (iTunes)
BetterPropaganda.gif“Music mix of the best and newest sounds from the most forward-thinking record labels out there.” This is put together (monthly I think) by Jonah Sharp, who seems to be an interesting figure in the experimental and electronica scenes. Each episode seems to center around a theme (eg. acoustic guitar). I’ve listened to a couple. One was excellent. The other I just wasn’t into. Yet I’m intrigued.

Electronic Periodic (iTunes)
electronicperiodic.jpg“Our aim is to produce free, quality podcasts compiled from electronic compositions in various styles including ambient, IDM, electro, trance and experimental.” For a “periodic”, it’s pretty irregular of late (January, April, two in July). However, it’s good, drone-ish ambient music which sometimes goes more into the IDM territory.

Percussion Lab Presents (iTunes)
PercussionLabMAY06small.png“Percussion Lab is a 24/7 stream of the illest underground electronic and hip hop music. Every month we feature live and DJ sets by established and up and coming artists and DJs.” The quality of this one really depends on the particular DJ that’s “spinning” (somehow I doubt the person is really spinning vinyl for the podcast, but you never know). That being said, the last few have been solid (perhaps good enough to forgive them for the use of the old chestnut “illest”). The last episode highlighted artists playing at the BAPLab festival in Brooklyn, which took place on July 22 (missed it by a week).

CLD THE E (rss) (last.fm)
cldthee.jpg“The streaming to escape from tomorrow. Electronica IDM Techo: from Tokyo Japan.” It made my day Friday when I discovered that my favorite internet radio station had a podcast. I’ve discovered so much great music listening to this stream over the years. Sometimes it goes so far afield that I have to switch to something else, but that’s what I like about it. It’s incredibly eclectic. If you want to challenge your ears, this is your gauntlet… eh.. thrown down.

Dell Support: Redemption

The conclusion (hopefully) of the Dell support saga: happy ending. Yes I finally got through, and spoke with a competent tech who patiently went through his script with me to make sure there wasn’t a power cable problem, etc. and after a short time realized the monitor was defective and sent a new one out. It arrived a few days later, and sent the defective one back, and it’s working great. They even made two followup calls — a day after my call with the tech guy and then a couple of days after it arrived to make sure I was happy with it. I’m still hesitant to recommend Dell, but I’m no longer a rabid detractor, as I was starting to become.

A couple of notes:

  1. I made a comment in the first post about the tech’s “thick accent.” I was trying to avoid the latent (well sometimes outright) racism you see in a lot of complaints about the incompetent Indian phone techs, as if being Indian had anything to do with it (I think that’s going to be the real legacy of outsourcing, as it currently works… a subject for another post). Instead I sounded generally xenophobic. It is frustrating to have to spell my email address 5 times and still not be sure if the person on the other end got it, but that’s something we’re all going to have to get used to as business continually gets globalized. This may be one of those times where the more I try to explain what I meant the worse I sound. Suffice to say I was merely frustrated with the overall experience and I took the low road and picked on the accent. Mea culpa. We are the world.
  2. It seems that one of the technical issues with Dell’s outsourced phone support is the phone system itself. It is bad enough that the person will preemptively give you the phone number they’re about to connect you with, saying “in case we get disconnected.” This part really makes you feel like you’re dealing with a rinky-dink operation that doesn’t care much about service.
  3. Speaking of the phone system: I kept a log of this “journey.” One of my notes says in all caps “MENU HELL.” Don’t people study this problem? Isn’t there a whole science to arranging a menu system which requires the fewest steps to get to the right place? I guess they charge too much for Dell. There should be a way to do this online, for any product you purchase from the company, not just whole systems.

Chocolate

If I could be said to have a vice, it would be fine, dark chocolate. Good thing too, since it is actually healthy (I happen to really enjoy red wine and coffee as well — all three are high in antioxidants). But the health benefits are beside the point. There’s nothing like breaking off a small square of 70% bittersweet goodness and savoring it.

valrhona_lenoir.jpg Le Noir 71% from French makers, Valrhona has been a dependable high quality choice for years. It has enough bitterness to be sophisticated, and just a hint of fruitiness to open up the palette. Trader Joe’s is the place to get this — they are somehow able to charge less than half what most do.

santander.jpgFor my birthday, along with a cd of music from the chocolate lands and a book about the chocolate barrons (my friends really know what I like), I received a bar of Santander 70% Columbian chocolate. This is really something different. It starts off fruity, moves into vanilla (or marshmallow) territory, slides into espresso roast, and finishes with a beautiful 50/50 mix of bitter and sweet. This one really changes if you exhale through your nose as you let it melt on your tongue. It may be a bit too sweet and candy-like to have on a regular basis, but so far I’m really enjoying it. It also happens to be an incredible value.

Amon Tobin: Chaos Theory DVD-A

chaos-theory-cover.jpgAmon Tobin is one of my favorite electronic music artists. Everything he does is very evocative, almost cinematic, if only action movies were this good. He has his own unmistakable style, yet it is more a planet than a palette, which is very hard to pull off as an artist. Which is why it is odd that it took me so long to grab his last full-length album, especially considering it is high definition surround mix on DVD-Audio. I suppose the fact that it was a game soundtrack (“Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3”) was a stumbling block for me. How good could incidental music loops for yet another first person shooter be? I needn’t have been so cautious. It’s a great album. Maybe not his best, but it’s up there. Moody and atmospheric, yet driving and adrenaline-pumping all at once. Vintage Amon Tobin. Also, this time there are credits to actual performing musicians, including an orchestra. Now I understand — writing for a game was just a way to get someone to front the money for even more grand sound sculpting options. The surround mix is very well done, allowing the spatial placement of sounds to become almost another instrument.

I had assumed I’d have to borrow a friend’s CD version of this album in order to rip the tracks and import them into iTunes. To my surprise, when you put the disk in your computer there is a directory full of sound files. Both surround AAC (which iTunes doesn’t yet support) and high resolution stereo versions were included. That’s what won me over and inspired this post. Kudos to Ninja Tunes and Amon Tobin for this forward thinking, and for not treating their customer like a criminal. In a perfect world, this would be the future of music distribution.

Dell Support

Type in Dell Support into your favorite search engine, and on the first page of results you’ll see some pretty angry users. This was my first clue that exchanging a faulty 19″ Dell LCD monitor wasn’t going to be easy. My first try was to email them. No go. You need a service tag number to use any of the online support options, which is only supplied with computer systems, not monitors. This ruled out live chat as well. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll go the old-fashioned way and call them.” For some reason I couldn’t find the appropriate phone number on the Dell site, which was when I discovered the expletive-laidened articles mentioned above.

Finally I gave up and found the packaging slip on the outside of the box. I dialed the number and after some bland music a tech support rep. answered and asked for the service tag. I told him I just had an order number. After some back and forth he asked if I was a business or home user. Apparently being a “home user” is about the same as being a leper in the eyes of Dell. I was immediately ejected and found myself being lulled into numbness by the hold music until a fellow with a thick accent answered. Same questions. I gave him my order number at which point he said something like “let me just check… *click*”. I was disconnected. Oy.

That was last week. I figured I’d give it another whirl today. First person who answered said I needed to contact customer service, since I just wanted an exchange, rather than actual technical help connecting the monitor. He gave me a number and then transferred me. After 10 minutes of more numbing hold music I was disconnected. The outsourced tech support folks working for Dell must have some fumbly fingers. I called the supplied number and the woman said that I needed to talk to LCD monitor support, not customer service, since replacing the monitor was a “last resort.” Oh boy, how wonderful. Again she gave me a number and again I was transferred (I felt like I was in a deleted scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil). This time I wasn’t cut off. I actually reached a human. Only, the way he answered, it sounded like I’d woken the guy up. After some confused conversation, it turned out that I’d been routed to an LCD refurbishing plant in Ohio, and that this actually happens with some regularity. He gave me two numbers to try. Before hanging up I asked if he could give me advice on the problem with the monitor, thinking at least the refurbisher would know something about it. No go. The guy who answered was a security guard.

I thanked him, hung up, and just started laughing… not quite hysterically, but more just to convince myself that this was actually part of some brilliant comedy of errors.

Continued